Mason Faculty Members Lead Efforts to Transform School Counseling

Posted: June 16, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Carol Kaffenberger and Sally Murphy
Carol Kaffenberger and Sally Murphy, professors in the College of Education and Human Development, have been instrumental in the statewide School Counseling Leadership Team.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

By Amy Biderman

As the College of Education and Human Development continues to respond to the needs of local school districts, faculty in the Counseling and Development Program are playing key roles in enhancing school counseling programs in Northern Virginia.

Associate Professors Carol Kaffenberger and Sally Murphy have taken the lead in a collaborative group known as the School Counseling Leadership Team (SCLT). Members include school district supervisors of counseling, representatives of the Virginia School Counselor Association and counselor educators.

The effort began in 1999 when Kaffenberger and Murphy discovered that school counselors in the region were facing a dearth of information, tools and resources to develop comprehensive programs that responded to students’ needs.

Fred Bemak
Fred Bemak, now director of the Diversity Research and Action Center

Along with Fred Bemak, then director of the Counseling and Development Program, the professors took the initiative to invite school district leaders to meet with them and discuss how they could work together.

“School leaders were thrilled that George Mason was involved,” Kaffenberger says. “Each meeting provided insight into the districts’ needs and established the beginning of a stronger relationship.”

The SCLT was formally established in 2001 as a model of collaboration and advocacy for professional school counselors and counselor educators.

A Force for Counseling Advocacy on the State Level

The team has three basic goals: clarify the role of professional school counselors within the Commonwealth of Virginia, transform counselor education programs and influence public policy governing school counselors and school counseling programs in Virginia.

“We went from nothing to being a powerful force at the state level over a three-year period,” Kaffenberger says.

Murphy, who currently serves as SCLT chair, adds, “You can feel the enthusiasm throughout the state – school counselors are unified. Everyone is realizing how important this collaboration is.”

The SCLT’s first achievement was successfully lobbying for a state-level counseling position, which had been a target of budget cuts in the early 1990s.

“School counseling district supervisors had expressed frustration over the inability to get consistent answers to questions on graduation requirements,” Kaffenberger recalls.

The SCLT, under Bemak’s leadership, quickly moved into action and had several meetings with the state to express concerns about the lack of attention to school counselors. The effort led to reinstating the position in the Department of Education.

At the same time, the group worked with the Virginia School Counseling Association (VSCA) to recommend a revision of the outdated Standards of Learning for School Counseling, originally written in 1984.

Several SCLT members, along with school counselors from around the state, met for two years to revise the standards. The Virginia School Board approved the document in 2004.

Another major accomplishment was working with VSCA to advocate for a requirement that every public elementary school have a school counselor.

“While middle and high school counselors had always been part of Virginia school communities, elementary counselors had been on a political seesaw,” says Kaffenberger, who now serves as VSCA president.

In 2002, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation requiring that every public elementary school have a school counselor.

The SCLT also took a leadership role in creating a series of workshops and hosting two summits to introduce school counselors, school counseling directors and administrators to the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) National Model for School Counseling Programs, which was adopted in 2003.

Training and Accountability to Ensure High Standards

Murphy’s role includes assisting school district program directors in their efforts to place Mason students in school counselor positions. A former school counselor, she has drawn from her own experience in developing a training program for school counselor site supervisors. The training includes supervision models, expectations of site supervisors and review of the ASCA national model. Murphy also offers the training to local universities through the SCLT.

“While the training stemmed out of a need at the local level, there was a realization that the concept shouldn’t stay within the confines of a few miles,” she says. “This training is important to the entire commonwealth – it’s all about raising awareness of the importance of school counseling at all school levels. Reaction to the training has been nothing but positive.”

An integral part of this training involves the use of accountability measures.

“We need to ask what impact school counselors are having in the preK-12 setting with regard to student success in academic, personal, social and career realms,” Murphy says. “It’s not just about how many people the counselors have seen.”

Etta Jane Hall, retired supervisor of elementary school counseling for Prince William County, was an original member of the SCLT. She underscores the importance of the SCLT workshops, as well as the training for counseling supervisors to meet school districts’ specific needs.

“The School Counseling Leadership Team has played a vital role in helping to improve the school counseling services provided to students by providing training on current counseling issues,” she says.

Richard Crowley, director of school counseling for Fairfax County Public Schools, attests to the value of the SCLT in creating a model for counseling.

“It’s a forum for change in the Commonwealth of Virginia that allows us to anticipate, rather than react, to change,” he says. “All of us are smarter than any of us. When we can work together, we can solve problems and share best practices, taking back to our individual districts what works.”

Collaboration with Other Universities

The SCLT has broadened its collaboration by inviting other area universities, including Marymount University, Virginia Tech and the George Washington University, to come to the table.

“We chose to involve other schools, not be in competition with them,” Murphy says. “Everyone wanted to be on the same page for the common goal of training tomorrow’s school counselors.”

Tammy Davis, associate professor of psychology at Marymount University, participates in the group.

“The SCLT truly opened a collaborative dialogue between all the graduate programs and local school districts in the area,” she says. “I am very grateful for the opportunity to network with the other universities with school counseling graduate programs and have open communication with representatives from surrounding school districts.

“The SCLT serves as a model to decrease the competitive nature of graduate programs and maximize the relationship between training programs and school counselors in the trenches. It is a model to be emulated everywhere because everyone wins.”

This article originally appeared in a different format in the College of Education and Human Development Magazine.

Write to at